Pastors make mistakes … all the time.
Last week, I made a doozy.
I scheduled an appointment one day with an accountant for 1:00 pm. Since I had been to the office two weeks before, I figured I could find it “by feel.”
While I found the main intersection just fine, I kept driving through office complexes, looking for a familiar-looking entrance … but I couldn’t find it.
Finally, out of frustration, I actually called the office – and was told I was on the wrong side of the street. I promised to be there in two minutes.
So I got in my car, quickly drove to the right office, and then reached for my backpack (with my wallet, smartphone, and glasses inside) … and realized that I didn’t have it.
Suddenly, I remembered that I called the office with my backpack on top of my car … but when I got out of the car, it wasn’t there.
I raced out of the parking lot and turned right … only to find my backpack in the middle of the street, along with my tax forms, which were blowing every which way.
Fortunately, it wasn’t a busy street, so I quickly picked everything up … but boy, did I feel stupid!
Since I retrieved everything … and one of my tax forms looks good with a tire track on it … I quickly forgot about the incident.
When I preach, I love to tell stories like that on myself because it shows the congregation that I’m as human as they are.
But what many – if most – pastors don’t want you to know is that we can be fallible as well.
Let me share with you several thoughts on pastors and their fallibility:
First, pastors are obsessed with being right.
Before I preach, I study my brains out. It’s important that I interpret Scripture correctly, illustrate it powerfully, and apply it relevantly. When I stand before God’s people and teach them God’s Word, I want to be convincing.
After all, I’m speaking with the authority of God Almighty.
But I can still make mistakes. I’ve had people come up to me after a service and ask, “Do you realize what you said?” When they tell me, I’m embarrassed … and wish I could issue an immediate correction!
It’s easy for pastors to take that preaching mindset away from the pulpit into other venues … like board meetings, staff meetings, or counseling sessions … or even at home with the family.
In Marshall Shelley’s groundbreaking book on pastor-centered conflict, Well-Intentioned Dragons, Shelley tells about a pastor who used a specific phrase whenever someone disagreed with him. The phrase?
“You may be right.”
Is it you may be right? Or you may be right? Or you may be right?
I don’t really know … but the phrase reflects the fact that the pastor is not the fount of all wisdom and knowledge … and that other people have good ideas, too.
Pastors need to use that phrase more often.
Second, pastors have a hard time admitting they’re wrong.
40 years ago, the most popular TV show in America was All in the Family. While Archie Bunker’s mouth was always open – expressing opinions, putting down his son-in-law, and pontificating on the state of the world – there were two words he just couldn’t get out of his mouth:
I’m not an Elton John fan, but he’s right: Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word.
We don’t want our pastors apologizing all the time. Can you imagine what it would be like if a pastor apologized throughout his message?
“I’m sorry … I could have said that better.”
“I’m sorry … I didn’t pronounce Artaxerxes right.”
“I’m sorry … I was thinking about the 49ers playoff game last night.”
We want our pastors to be strong and persuasive, to proclaim the Word of God with the anointing of God.
But there are times when a pastor does need to apologize … mostly in relational settings … even if people don’t know you’re a pastor.
Not long ago, I went to the local Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet and was unhappy with their prices. I expressed my discontent directly to the server behind the counter, but he didn’t get ruffled. I immediately felt bad about what I said.
I sat and ate my food, but on my way out, I stopped and apologized to him for the way I spoke to him. He accepted my apology. I was wrong and needed to admit it.
The prices were still too high … but he didn’t set them.
Pastors need to say “I’m sorry” when they’re late for an appointment … or if they get upset in a board meeting … or when they overreact to criticism.
After all, if we pastors truly believe that we’re all sinners, doesn’t that mean that we sin at times … and not just in private?
Finally, pastors struggle with certain ongoing sins.
When I was a teenager, I had a really annoying habit: I tore the bottom inch off of newspapers (the place without ink), put it in my mouth, and chewed it for a few moments. To this day, I can’t tell you why I did that.
But I overcame that problem. I haven’t done that in more than 40 years.
I’ve always tried to be open about sins that I used to commit … but have now overcome.
Pastors sense that they can admit a problem with overeating … or ignoring their kids … or going into megadebt … as long as they’ve overcome those sins with God’s help.
But what pastors struggle with the most is admitting that they still commit certain sins.
Like anyone else, pastors can make cutting remarks … or can talk too much in public … or can go berserk when a driver cuts them off in traffic.
Because we pastors still cross God’s moral and spiritual lines, we need to serve the Lord with humility … and forgive those who criticize us … and admit when we’re wrong.
I don’t know about you, but I’m drawn to pastors who let me know they’re just as human as I am.
And I’m repulsed by pastors who must always be right, even when they’re obviously wrong.
“Infallible” pastors may have large congregations … and write books … and be in demand as speakers.
But they won’t be able to get very close to their wives … or kids … or friends.
Because an infallible God only uses fallible servants to preach His infallible Word and reach His fallible Church.
And He can’t do much with infallible pastors.